As the curtain comes down on 2019, it is time for the SADC region to retrospect and reflect on achievements made and challenges encountered during the year with a view to overcoming these in the coming year.
Probably the biggest achievement was on the political front where the region proved once again that it has come of age in as far as democracy is concerned.
The year saw elections being successfully held in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. These polls were held in a peaceful environment and in accordance with the SADC and the African Union principles governing democratic elections. No wonder, they were declared as free and fair by the various observer groups which came to observe these elections.
Of course, and as is becoming the norm across the continent, the losing opposition parties in some countries disputed the results. This should be a cause for worry across the region and we urge political parties to embrace results as in any election, there are bound to be winners and losers. The winners, on their part, must embrace all, including those who did not vote for them as this is a sign of nation building and statecraft. The losers, on the other hand, must not always be in the habit of disputing election results.
While peace largely prevailed across the region, there are worrying signs of a threat to this peace in Mozambique where a terror group, under the guise of the Islamic religion, continue to kill people in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. And despite the signing of a peace deal between the Mozambique government and the former rebel movement, Renamo, sporadic attacks on civilians by armed groups believed to be remnants of Renamo are still occurring in Mozambique. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, total peace still has to be achieved, particularly in the eastern part of the country, while in Lesotho, the political stand-off between parties has to be resolved. These should be cause for concern for the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Corporation and we urge that action be taken to immediately address these issues which threaten to taint the region’s reputation as an oasis for peace.
Other challenges across the region include the continued poverty and inequality among SADC citizens as the gap between the rich and poor continues to increase. This must certainly give those in power sleepless nights. They must, therefore, continue to address issues of poverty across the region. Citizens need jobs and better living conditions. It must be incumbent upon those elected to lead nations to ensure that citizens have access to education, quality health services, access to clean potable water, a roof over their heads, and that no child goes to sleep on an empty stomach. That is why we continue to call for efforts to improve the conditions of life of peoples across the SADC region.
This year saw the region experiencing acute electricity shortages, especially in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, resulting in huge impact on these countries’ economies. For Zambia and Zimbabwe, the dwindling water levels in Lake Kariba, which is the biggest supplier of hydro-electricity to these two countries, was a major cause for concern and it is hoped that there will be an improvement in the new year.
The electricity deficit across the SADC region therefore calls for concerted efforts to complete the Grand Inga hydro-electricity scheme in the DRC. This project has been on the drawing board for far too long and it is high time serious commitments were made to complete this project. Electricity has a huge hearing on the economy and leaders across the SADC region must not overlook the need to invest in new sources of electricity and energy, including natural gas, solar and wind.
The year also saw the region mooting various infrastructure development projects in rail and road networks, as well as water projects and sea ports. In fact, Namibia commissioned the multi-million dollar port in Walvis Bay which is expected to improve trade across the region. The country must be commended for giving pieces of land to Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe to develop dry port facilities which will improve trade across the region. This will in turn enhance regional integration.
Going forward, SADC nations should build on what was started in 2019 and look for better economic prospects which will in turn improve the livelihoods of the people of the region from 2020 and beyond. We expect all the 16 members of SADC to take to another level the beneficiation of resources and the region’s Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.
The region is endowed with vast mineral resources which, we believe, must be exploited to transform the economies of the member states. From Angola to Zimbabwe, the SADC region is endowed with coltan, cobalt, diamonds, emeralds, gold, platinum, copper, coal, oil, silver, chrome, nickel, just to mention a few minerals, and we believe these must be fully exploited with the proceeds channeled to the development of these countries.
As we have said before, Africa is the richest continent in the world but has the poorest people on earth. Why must this continue? We believe Southern Africa must lead the economic transformation of the continent and look forward to SADC members taking serious steps towards fully implementing the Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap in 2020.
This is because the roadmap has a long term perspective, and is aligned to national, regional, continental and international dimensions. The strategy recognises that for trade liberalisation to contribute to sustainable and equitable development and reduce poverty, it must be complemented by the requisite capacities to produce, and to trade effectively and efficiently.
The primary orientation of the strategy is the importance of technological and economic transformation of the SADC region through industrialisation, modernisation, skills development, science and technology, financial strengthening and deeper regional integration.
But for this strategy to work, we must hasten to point out that there must be peace and tranquility in the region, whose member states must abide by the principle of holding democratic elections when they are due, as demonstrated by Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa this year.
The coming year must therefore be filled with hope and better prospects for the SADC.